Excerpted from Detained and Deported: Stories of Immigrant Families Under Fire by Margaret Regan (2015, Beacon Press), pages 45 – 49. Used with permission.
Mariana Rodriguez grabbed her backpack and hurried out of Tempe High. It was 3:10 p.m. Classes were done for the day, but she had a long night ahead. She was still a student, a senior in high school, but she’d already worked for three years nearly full-time at a Subway restaurant…
The money Mariana earned slicing up Subway rolls and piling them with tuna or ham was “for the house,” for the family…
Ever since she could remember, her mother, “Lidia,” had worked hard, chopping food in restaurant kitchens, cleaning houses. But three years earlier Lidia had begun to feel ill. She was tired all the time and losing weight.
Fifteen-year-old Mariana took up the slack. Her father had abandoned the family when she was too little to remember him, and her two older sisters were already married and out of the house. It was up to Mariana, a high school freshman, to keep an eye on her younger brother and take care of the family’s bills.
“I was working and going to school at the same time,” she said, earning $500 to $550 every other week. “I was paying everything. The rent. As much as I could. I worked thirty-seven or thirty-eight hours a week.”
Mariana and her family were devout Christians, and between school, work, family, and church, she had little time to herself. She’d go right home from school each day, drop off her books, and then rush out to work. At eighteen, Mariana was a Subway favorite. She could assemble sandwiches at lightning speed, and her sweet smile won over boss and customers alike. The manager even had her train new employees.
Something was amiss, that February afternoon in 2012, when she walked into the restaurant. “Two people were sitting in a corner,” she said. “They called, ‘Shannon, come over here. We need you to sit down with us.’
Mariana was alarmed. She was undocumented, and “Shannon” was the name on the fake social security card she had used to get the job. The man and woman at the table were in street clothes, but when Mariana approached, they flashed their badges; they were officers with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the state agency that not only patrols the highways, but tracks down high-level criminals. Drug-dealers. Identity thieves. And forgerers.
“We know your name isn’t what you say,” one agent said. “We need to know everything about you. Your real name.”
“I was scared,” Mariana remembered. “I’d never had to deal with officers. My mom had always been scared of them, and I got that fear from her.”
She told the agents the truth: her name was Mariana Rodrigues and she was eighteen years old-a legal adult. The man took in the information, pushed back his chair, and walked over to the counter, where freshly cut veggies gleamed behind the glass. He told Mariana’s boss, Wendy Wang, that she was going to need a new sandwich maker. “Shannon” was not her star employee’s real name, and he was going to bring the young girl in for questioning.
Wendy was horrified. “She’s the sweetest person,” she protested. “She’s a great worker, very reliable.” In front of customers, the female officer led a mortified Mariana out to the car, patted her down, and snapped handcuffs onto her tiny wrists…
[Mariana was given a hearing date and released.]
A year and a half later, Mariana sat back in her seat at a MacDonald’s in North Phoenix and smiled. It was a torrid July day, and McD’s full-blast AC had reeled in families and boisterous kids, nearly all of them Spanish speakers in this heavily Mexican neighborhood. Nothing seemed to faze Mariana. Not the children kicking her chair, not the responsibilities that had taken over her teenage years, not the fact that she had spent the previous night on the floor of her mother’s hospital room.
At the moment, she and her family were living in a dark apartment in a shabby complex on a frontage road, in the shadow of I-17. The Rodriguezes’ circumstances had been badly reduced since the day Mariana had been arrested at Subway. Two branches of the extended family were jammed into one small apartment; when I came to pick her up, her brother-in-law was babysitting a gaggle of toddlers in the crowded living room. Lidia was in the hospital- again- and everyone’s anxiety was palpable.